The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Break through the Auto Strike’s Divisions!

Oct 2, 2023

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of September 24, 2023.

Even before autoworkers went out on strike, the big media dug up “financial experts” to claim the auto companies can’t afford the wage and benefit increases the UAW was asking for.

Can’t afford it? Of course, they can. Over ten years’ time, Ford, GM, and Stellantis-Chrysler almost doubled their profit, making almost 250 billion dollars. They showered stockholders with 66 billion dollars in dividends and stock buybacks. They increased by 40% the money they lavished on their chief executive officers. They built new factories in a competition to take over the world.

And that’s just a snippet of the wealth the auto companies accumulated from the workers’ labor over all these years. So don’t let anyone talk this nonsense to you that “they can’t afford it.”

They just don’t want to. And in this capitalist society, their ownership of the means of production gives them the right to decide.

Well, the auto companies are unhappy today. The union’s decision to call a strike interferes with the companies’ freedom to decide.

After 1976, the UAW refrained from calling a national strike at the three U.S. auto companies for 43 years. Companies were given a free hand to do what they wanted. And they did it. They cut out the yearly wage increase. They removed protection from inflation. They eliminated most protection from layoffs. They removed the 12 extra personal days off gained in 1976. They eliminated pensions and the medical care that went with it for new hires. They replaced guaranteed medical care for existing retirees with an inadequately funded VEBA. They spun off parts plants. They pushed a brutal speed-up in order to reduce jobs. They set up killing work schedules. They closed plants. They made temp work the way in for many new hires.

For 43 years, the UAW just watched—no national strike was called at Ford, GM, or Chrysler.

So, in 2019, when the “old” leadership of the UAW called a nationwide strike at GM, it really was a shot across the companies’ bow. And there were some gains: bigger bonuses and a partial reduction in tiers and temp work. But limited to just one company, it took 40 days to get even that.

Now, in 2023, the “new” leadership of the UAW has called another national strike, this time at all three companies. But this strike, too, has limits. Only part of the workers have been called to strike.

Maybe the strike will finally get to all the plants at all three companies. But so far, it seems more like a bluff to threaten the companies rather than an action that allows the workers to mass their forces and use the power their numbers give them.

In the second week, the UAW extended the strike to 38 parts depots—a lot of facilities but few workers. And the 38 facilities don’t feed into production. They distribute parts to dealers, auto shops, and fleet owners. Someone with an old vehicle in need of repairs will feel the pain. Auto shops will. The companies won’t. They’ll just build up inventory at plants producing big money-makers.

Maybe the threat of a strike rolling out to all the plants will bring a little bit more than the 2019 strike. If so, look behind the money up-front. Can it provide workers’ children with a decent existence? What about the destruction of working conditions, elimination of jobs, division of workers into different categories, different companies?

UAW leaders called for the 2019 strike but limited it from the beginning. New leaders appear to be doing the same thing again in 2023, just in a different way. In both strikes, the workers were divided into those who fight and those who don’t.

Of course, things can change. The 2023 strike may be only at the beginning. The companies themselves might call the union’s bluff.

But above all, no one can say what the workers might take upon themselves to do. There are many auto workers today, disappointed at not being called on to join the fight. There are workers who know that this is more like a shouting match than a real fight. Some of those workers may be the ones leading others to break through the divisions imposed by the companies and by union leaders!

This strike may still gain a real life.